Tested by Erwin Bursik (January/February 2004)
AN ALL-PURPOSE OFFSHORE SPORTFISHER
NOTHING gets people more curious than when a bit of mystery surrounds a subject. So it was that mystery, veiled suggestions and sketchy facts were what I was fed by Rodman SA’s Director, Laurence Steytler, during the unveiling process of the range of Rodman sportfishers he is marketing in South Africa.
These snippets of information were uppermost in my mind as I flew to Spain and the town of Vigo to see the three craft I was due to review and visit the factory where they are manufactured. Throughout my mental wanderings I asked myself many questions — most of which were unanswerable at the time — and tried to rationalise Laurence’s decisions.
He had spent two years researching craft in the 30ft to 40ft range for his personal offshore use, and in the end had not only settled on a Spanish designed and built craft, but had also veered on a dramatically different course — from owner to importer and marketer of these craft.
After seeing the factory and spending a lot of time at sea on the craft, I can now well understand his reasoning.
My first sight of the Rodman 1250 I was about to review was as it was being lowered into the water for the first time after coming off the production line. Suspended in mid-air she was imposing, mighty big and very striking.
However, she was even prettier on the water as the chief boat tester at Rodman put her through her paces prior to letting me loose on her. Trusting folk, the people at Rodman, letting me — an unknown skipper — loose on a multi-million rand craft I had never seen before, in waters I was experiencing for the first time. My only solace was the accompanying craft I would use for photographic purposes and one of the Rodman sales staff who would keep me company.
Even as the Rodman 1250 was being lowered, more and more questions sprang to mind. I immediately noticed the strongly shaped and flared bow, the recessed propellers and, above all, the pronounced keel towards the stern of the hull. The impression that this was a heavy sea boat was born and stuck in my mind.
As she was lowered to a level below where I was standing, the full impact of the walkaround concept I had heard so much about really struck home. It gave this craft a very different look to the conventional sportfishers I have come to know over the last 20 years. From that moment I started working out whether this deviation from the known and accepted was viable and acceptable. It was a judgement I intended to delay until I had reviewed all three craft I was in Spain to test.
As I edged towards the main waterway around, and often through, literally thousands of oyster- and mussel farming barges, the enormity of my task was becoming apparent. I was sweating. This one-hour-old craft was my responsibility, and the busy waterway of the 10km run to the open Atlantic Ocean was daunting, to say the least.
However, the Rodman 1250 made the experience both easy and eventually very pleasurable in that she was so easy to get to know and tracked superbly well. This enabled me to criss-cross wakes from high-speed ferries and even naval patrol craft without a worry of her taking her head and veering to port or starboard, as a lot of craft would tend to do under the same circumstances.
It was her superb tracking abilities and her big, heavy shoulders that allowed her to take on with ease the swells of the Atlantic as we exited the gap between the mainland and one of the estuary islands that stretch a good way across the estuary entrance.
All this only confirmed the quality of the craft’s lineage to me. She was certainly born from experience — experience of small boats in big seas. From time immemorial the waters of the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay had to be navigated by Spanish and Portuguese seamen, and the knowledge they gained on these journeys has filtered through to modern day European craft designs.
In fact, the Atlantic was kind to me, with just enough wind and sea to test the Rodman 1250 without having to fight big and uncomfortable seas. However, the swell that developed between the two headlands, combined with boat speed, provided me with more than sufficient sea movement to see just how outstanding this hull is in rough conditions.
When I first really opened up the twin 430hp turbocharged Volvo Diesel motors while proceeding down the waterway, she got her shoulders out of the water very readily and was on the plane very quickly. She then quickly settled down to a very pleasant trim angle after achieving in excess of 18 knots. No afterplaners or trim-tabs had been fitted to the craft I reviewed, so her trim angle was solely determined by her hull design.
During very high-speed runs of over 25 knots — she can achieve 32 knots at 2 500 rpm — I did experience a little lateral sensitivity which I feel hydraulic trim-planers would address. These would also assist her to pull out of the hole when getting onto the plane. Below 25 knots, which — for a craft this size — is more than fast enough, she is not only incredibly stable, but as I have already said, she also tracks surprisingly well.
While the above findings were judged in relatively flat water, the effect of the rougher sea combined with a moderate swell did not change her characteristics. In fact, the open sea seemed to put more life into the craft.
I believe that any skipper can push a craft at full speed into rough water where the craft and all aboard her suffer and don’t enjoy the experience. That’s no fun. I love what I call a long run at optimal speed. This allows one to cover distance to far off fishing grounds at optimum speed, optimum comfort and optimum quietness. It is then that all aboard — and the craft itself — suffer no discomfort.
The Rodman 1250 loves speeds between 18 and 24 knots, and I loved skippering her at these speeds. Not only was she very stable, but I could also relax and chat to Rodman’s marketing executive André who was accompanying me during the sea trials.
In a following sea she comes into her own and, I believe, due to her aft keel, runs straight, showing no tendency whatsoever to throw her bow or want to yaw.
Up on her flybridge the skipper’s seat is well aft, thus providing a superb overview of the fishing deck. As this craft has dual stations, a full set of instruments and electronics make skippering her from above a pleasure.
One improvement I think they could look at is to provide a little more room for the skipper in the positioning of his seat. The skipper will notice this lack of space, especially when he needs to position himself side-on to manoeuvre in reverse, like while fighting a fish or mooring the craft. Perhaps the average South African skipper is of larger proportions than his Spanish counterpart.
When reversing or manoeuvring the craft, slow speeds are essential. As no trolling valves had been fitted to the craft I was skippering, the flicking in and out of gear via the electronic gear and throttle control selector was a little daunting, until I got used to it. Although it is possible to manoeuvre without them, trolling valves would allow the skipper a little more time to adjust the craft’s backward momentum. Besides which, slow trolling speeds are a basic requirement of offshore angling, and it’s hard to slow-troll without them.
During trolling trials her minimum speed was just under five knots (speed-over-water) and she throws a delightfully short and narrow wake. It’s only after about 8,5 knots that the whitewater wake seems to spread wider than where I would pull the port or starboard short lures from the outriggers.
One of this craft’s promoted benefits is her 360° fishability. This claim necessitates that she be very stable whilst on the drift and that she drifts side-on and not transom-on to wind and sea. She certainly fulfills both of these requirements, and while on the drift in the rough stuff I clambered all over the craft — especially up to the bow area — as if to fish. She was stable, did lie side-on to the sea, and I was able to move forward from the cockpit without having to hang on at all.
In essence, that is the big advantage of this craft: one can walk (not climb) to the foredeck with ease and fish there in comfort, if that is your style of fishing. By the way, it’s ideal for entertaining as it effectively provides a lot more external deck space. There is, however, a sacrifice in that the saloon area is marginally narrower than that of a normal craft of her length.
Since playing with this style of craft I have been obsessive about watching how much time anglers spend inside the saloon or around the helm station while fishing in our tropical climate. Surprisingly little, is the result of my unscientific survey. As for anybody going up forward, the survey was nil, except to cast off mooring or to collect them after a day at sea. And, yes, there is a lot of wasted space in a conventional sportfisher.
As the Rodman 1250 is not purely a marlin hunter, but rather an all-purpose offshore sportfisher, her fishing deck is not massive. However, it can easily accommodate a good quality fighting chair and have sufficient space for the angler, chairman, leaderman and gaffer to fight a big marlin or tuna. When it comes to bottomfishing, there is plenty of room for six to ten anglers to comfortably practice their sport.
When it comes to the interior design, Rodman have excelled. Not only do they utilise the space at their disposal very effectively, but it’s styled to maximise the space and provide practical and user-friendly saloon, helm and galley areas. All furnishings and fittings are well designed and sturdy in manufacture, well fitted and, above all, look very good.
The main and second cabins are comfortable, the decor very pleasing and the bathroom big enough for practical use by large passengers or crew.
It is, however, the concept of the walkaround that had me confused, to put it mildly. For nearly fifty years I have accepted that a sportfisher has a fishing deck, and that’s that. From my point of view, no lateral thought has been given to any other format. Now, faced with a craft that is different and has a large following in Europe, I had to redirect my thinking.
It wasn’t easy. As Laurence will tell you, he and I were locked in arguments for hours and hours on the subject. In the end, I tried to keep an open mind until I had tested all three of the craft I went to Vigo to see before voicing a strong impression. Remember, this is my view only.
When I was testing the Rodman 1250, I could visualise the benefits of the walkaround. After all, I know the feeling of being harnessed to an 80kg tuna 40 miles off Hout Bay when Bob Busby made me follow the fish twice around his craft, Osprey, with almost no gunnel and only a flimsy wire rope safety railing between me and the sea. At the time I didn’t admit to being scared stiff, but I was. I mentally re-enacted that scene on the 1250, and it would have been a walk in the park.
The other major consideration one has to take into account is the time spent in South African waters trolling for billfish where only the fishing deck will be used. All other gamefishing and bottomfishing is severely restricted if the anglers are confined to the fishing deck.
When it comes to other fishing techniques, like standup fishing and spinning, a walkaround extends the fishing platform incredibly. Even if one were to take children fishing — say in the protected waters of False Bay — they would be very safe fishing upfront with an almost waist-high gunnel and a very substantial stainless-steel railing the full perimeter of the walkaround.
For the ladies, the suntanning mattress that fits on the cabin roof will be a welcome accessory. As much as I would like to believe the glossy brochures showing big American sportfishers with a bevy of beauties on the foredeck, I can only presume they get there while the boat is at the wharfside or via helicopter. Seeing them clamber around outriggers and stays on the narrow gunnel walkways of conventional craft whilst at sea would be more than interesting.
This wouldn’t be a problem with the Rodman walkarounds.
The negative side to having the walkaround is the loss of saloon area. So what it means is that the 40 footer has the saloon area of a 36 footer. That’s not really a great loss when one considers that South African anglers very seldom use the saloon, other than to get a cool drink from the fridge or heat their lunch in the microwave.
It’s taken me a lot of time and thought, but at the end of the day I’ve turned my views 180°. Put very simply, I like the concept of the walkaround, and I am confident that in South African waters this craft will offer a lot more fishability to the average offshore angler.
I was very impressed with the way the Rodman 1250 was built, and more than happy with the way she handled at sea. With these basic credentials, I believe she will certainly find favour among the big boat fraternity in South Africa and other African countries, both on the east and west coasts.
Read the full story in the January/February 2004 issue of SKI-BOAT.